Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., aware that concerns about his age could weigh on his candidacy if he runs for the White House, has discussed two steps that could reassure voters about electing a 78-year-old president next year.
Mr. Biden and his top advisers are considering nodding to the rising next generation in Democratic politics — and elevating an heir — by announcing a running mate early, well before the nomination is sealed. Also under discussion is a possible pledge to serve only one term and framing Mr. Biden’s 2020 campaign as a one-time rescue mission for a beleaguered country, according to multiple party officials.
Such moves would amount to a big play that would send a signal about the seriousness of the election, and could potentially appeal to both liberal activists and general-election voters who are eager to chart the safest route toward defeating President Trump. But Mr. Biden is not sold on either approach, and both carry significant risks, chiefly that they could call further attention to the age of a candidate who would turn 80 in the White House.
There is also the risk that Mr. Biden could appear presumptuous — even imperious — by choosing a running mate before the electorate has the chance to sift the field of candidates, presenting voters with a two-person package before anyone has voted for even the top spot on the ticket. More than a dozen people are running in the Democratic primary, including a record number of women and minorities, and announcing a running mate too soon could foreclose the possibility of uniting the party by inviting a popular runner-up to join the ticket later.
Still, the former vice president is clearly mindful of the need to have a ready answer for when voters and reporters ask him about his age if and when he enters the race, a decision that could come as soon as next month.
Earlier this month, for example, he raised the issue over lunch with members of the Delaware congressional delegation.
Senator Tom Carper, who is himself 72, said he offered a succinct response to Mr. Biden: “Two words: Nancy Pelosi.”
Ms. Pelosi, the 78-year-old House speaker, is doing “a hell of a job,” Mr. Carper noted, a view that is widely shared by the sort of Democrats who will cast ballots in next year’s primary.
But unlike Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Biden is facing a sprawling Democratic primary field, filled with younger contenders, in a party that has a history of elevating candidates who are new to the political scene. Mr. Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1972, a few weeks after one of his potential rivals, former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, was born.
While Mr. Biden currently leads all the primary polls, usually with about a third of the vote, his support skews toward the older end of the Democratic base. Both Mr. Biden and his top aides question whether he will be able to make deep inroads with millennial voters in a primary, and also whether he will be able to raise large sums of money online.
Unlike a number of other candidates, such as Mr. O’Rourke and Senators Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, Mr. Biden has not spent years building a muscular digital operation aimed at stimulating online supporters to give money. So his team is mulling a host of unconventional steps, including several related to fund-raising, transparency and the mechanics of a campaign.
But none would carry the impact of naming a running mate early or vowing to serve just one term.
Two of Mr. Biden’s closest advisers, Steve Ricchetti and Mike Donilon, have floated both possibilities in recent weeks. And they have been egged on by some Democratic lawmakers, who have urged the Biden associates to strongly consider the one-term pledge to immediately defuse the question about his age.
Mr. Donilon has also, though not recently, discussed the general concept with Mark Salter, who was John McCain’s chief of staff and unsuccessfully lobbied Mr. McCain to make a similar vow when he ran for president at the age of 72 in 2008, according to people familiar with the conversation.
“It was about country first,” said Mr. Salter, recalling Mr. McCain’s slogan. “Biden could do the same thing now with the country in even more desperate straits.” (Mr. Salter did not recall discussing the matter with Mr. Donilon).
But Mr. Biden is uneasy with the prospect of pledging up front not to seek re-election, believing that it would make him a lame-duck president before he even takes office and cripple his ability to get anything done, according to some of his aides.
He is more open to the idea of picking a vice president well before the customary time frame, which would be around the party’s nominating convention next year.
Some of his top advisers, speaking on the condition of anonymity, believe that naming a running mate before he is the nominee could not only mollify voters concerned about his age but also send a message about the sort of administration he would put in place. They have been interested in this strategy on and off for months, and CNN recently reported the conversations were stirring again.
With a younger but still accomplished vice-presidential nominee at his side, Mr. Biden could hope to demonstrate his commitment to diversity and to restoring stability to Washington.
Among the people Mr. Biden’s close allies have discussed for the role are Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia House minority leader who narrowly lost a race for governor last year, and Ms. Harris and Mr. O’Rourke, if their campaigns appear to flag in the coming months.
Mr. Biden and Ms. Abrams had lunch in Washington last week, and advisers to both declined to say if he had broached the subject of the vice presidency. Aides to Mr. Biden who spoke to him after the lunch said he told them he found Ms. Abrams “incredibly impressive.”
Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, who has known Ms. Abrams since she was a college student because they were both Truman Scholars, said she “would bring a lot to the ticket,” but said he is torn because he would also like to have her as a colleague in the Senate.
Jaime Harrison, a senior Democratic National Committee official who is considering a campaign for Senate in South Carolina, said the idea of Mr. Biden partnering with an African-American running mate had been widely speculated about in his state as a way to “mobilize and energize the African-American base in the election.”
Mr. Biden is popular among South Carolina Democrats, a majority of whom are black, but his appeal as an older white man could be put to the test there in a race that features the most diverse set of candidates ever.
And his lengthy Senate record includes important episodes that Mr. Biden may have to defend before black voters, such as his past support for draconian anti-crime legislation, for which he has expressed regret, and his handling of the 1991 Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings.
“It’s been the buzz for months,” Mr. Harrison said of the suggestion that Mr. Biden settle early on a black running mate. “Some people are saying it would be a way to give a nod to African-American women or the African-American community in general, because they’ve given so much to the party.”
Mr. Biden’s advisers stress that he is still finalizing his decision whether to run and is nowhere near determining whether to name a running mate early. And some of them grumble that neither Mr. Sanders, who is a year older than Mr. Biden, nor the 72-year-old current occupant of the Oval Office face the same amount of questions about his age.
The former vice president, though, has said those questions are “legitimate.” At a speech last fall, Mr. Biden said it is “totally appropriate for people to look at me and say, if I were to run for office again, ‘Well God darn you’re old.’ Well chronologically I am old.”
But he suggested that he is in fine shape, something his younger brother echoed earlier this year in a radio interview when he favorably compared Mr. Biden to Mr. Trump, “who is obese and probably couldn’t walk 18 holes of golf.”
There is some precedent for choosing a running mate early. In 1976, Ronald Reagan named Senator Richard S. Schweiker, a moderate from Pennsylvania, several weeks before the Republican convention where he lost a narrow battle with President Gerald Ford for the G.O.P. nomination.
More recently, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas named Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard executive, in a desperate and unsuccessful effort to overtake Mr. Trump ahead of the 2016 Indiana primary.
Mr. Biden’s team is discussing a very different scenario: not picking a running mate as a last resort but rather enlisting someone to shore up Mr. Biden’s expected status as a front-runner.
Despite his concerns about online fund-raising and generational churn in the Democratic presidential field, Mr. Biden would have powerful advantages over the current array of candidates, commanding deep respect and affection across nearly the entire Democratic coalition and boasting unmatched credentials on national security, international diplomacy and other matters of state.
And that is exactly why some of his supporters would rather not have him rush to name a running mate.
“My general counsel would be to let the primary season play out a little bit before doing something like that,” said Mr. Coons.